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Our presumptive President-Elect chose to take time out from his Sunday (November 27) to inform us via Twitter (with no evidence) that millions of people voted illegally, and that but for those illegal votes, he would have won the popular vote nationally. (As of this writing Hillary Clinton is more than 2,200,000 ballots ahead of Trump in the popular vote).
Not to mention that he has in the space of a couple of inflammatory Tweets managed to insult the professionalism and intelligence of every county and state voter registrar, election worker, poll watcher, precinct judge, county elections board member, and state election officer in the country, not to mention every—or at least 3 million—of us voters.
If this is what we have to look forward to for the next four years, the ratings for Trump’s reality TV version of the federal government should be through the roof, right? So at least we have that going for us. It’s obscene—if understandable; this is the PEOTUS, after all— that this story got any traction at all.
But first, given that in my last post I opined that the Clinton campaign would be unlikely to seek recounts in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and given that events have proven my opinion to be wrong, let’s address the decision by the Clinton campaign to piggyback on the Jill Stein campaign’s recount requests.
General counsel to Hillary for America Marc Elias (via a statement posted on Medium, and as quoted extensively in Rick Hasen’s blog) makes it clear that Hillary Clinton is wholly realistic about the likelihood that the recounts will not change the outcome of the election, but that such recounts should prove useful as audits of the accuracy and integrity of the election process and to settle fears regarding the risks of result-changing “hacks.”
Briefly, the Clinton campaign would not have pursued recounts but for the fact that
(1) The Stein campaign raised the money and filed the paperwork to get the ball rolling, and
(2) Voters were collectively so disturbed and agitated by evidence of foreign meddling and interference in the election that it made sense for the Clinton campaign to join in the recount effort in order to bring closure to the election.
So why did Stein’s campaign ask for recounts in the first place?
I don’t know—I guess it’s possible that the Stein campaign coordinated with the Clinton campaign, but that seems unlikely, given that neither campaign will benefit in any direct political way from behind-the-scenes cooperation.
I suspect that the Stein recount was motivated by no more than what it seems to be on its face—a grassroots-driven gift propelled by very real and understandable anxiety on the part of committed Stein supporters who could not have been happy with the idea of a Trump victory, especially if it was the result of some sort of direct interference or manipulation of the vote totals in key precincts.
Finally, Paul Musgrave, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has written a nice summary explanation as to why Russia benefits—at least in the short term—from all this anxiety.
On June 8, Rick Hasen posted a column on Slate in which he argued that Hillary Clinton’s spotlight on GOP efforts to restrict voting rights was detrimental to the larger goal of actual voting rights reform. Not surprisingly, this column drew an immediate and angry response from many commenters who took issue with Professor Hasen’s concern that a Presidential campaign is too vitriolic to encourage actual bipartisan improvements in voting rights.
In making his argument, Professor Hasen acknowledged that (1) Secretary Clinton’s criticism of GOP-led changes in voting laws are factually correct; and (2) that Secretary Clinton’s proposed reforms (universal Federal voting registration, online registration, etc) are sound and rational. In other words, Professor Hasen generally agrees with Secretary Clinton that state legislatures dominated by the GOP have eroded voting rights since 2011 (with such measures as restrictive picture I.D. requirements, limitations on registration, reductions in early voting, etc.), and that for the health of our nation’s democracy, these restrictions must be overturned.
It isn’t the message that Professor Hasen finds objectionable, but the forum in which that message is being aired – a Presidential campaign. In his view, “voting rights” as a Democratic Party candidate’s campaign talking point puts Republicans on the defensive. As the GOP circles the wagons, the intensity of the rhetoric diminishes the likelihood that a Republican lawmaker can save face while working to overturn disastrous laws like those enacted in Texas and North Carolina.
As a counter-example of bipartisan cooperation on improving the voting experience, Professor Hasen points to the overwhelming success of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA), which substantially advanced the cause of online voter registration, improved voter convenience for early and absentee voting, and so on. The implication is that partisan rhetoric dampens enthusiasm for actual voting rights reforms. Why rock the boat? Why make enemies when the goal should be to improve access to the polls? Professor Hasen also argues that even a successful Presidential campaign is a poor mechanism for policy change, because the Executive Branch has very little in the way of effective tools for implementing changes in state election procedures.
Does Hillary Clinton’s campaign rhetoric really paint bipartisan cooperation on voting rights into a corner? I’m not so sure. Her harshest criticisms are aimed at two of her competitors (Rick Perry and Scott Walker) for their past actions; these potential GOP nominees couldn’t participate meaningfully in bipartisan improvements in voting rights even if they wanted to, and attacks against them for their hostility towards minority voters don’t particularly imperil any actual reform, and simply strengthen the polarizing stance of the two dominant parties. (the unofficial slogan of the GOP is “Protecting You From Undesirables.” The unofficial slogan of the Democratic Party is “Protecting You From People Who Think You are Undesirable.”)
Here’s the fatal flaw in Professor Hasen’s argument: he simultaneously discounts the political value of campaign rhetoric while paradoxically worrying about the political effect of campaign rhetoric.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign rhetoric regarding voting rights is either effective to influence government policy regarding voting rights reform (positively or negatively) or it is not. Statements by candidates for President regarding voting rights reform cannot simultaneously be regarded as both meaningless (due to the limited leverage allegedly afforded to federal executive control over state voting rights) and negatively powerful and promoting of intransigence among Republicans with respect to actual reform. The only acts that promote intransigence with respect to voting rights reform are those acts that actually have some chance of succeeding in making changes to voting rights.
Therefore, the only course available to Secretary Clinton is to continue treating voting rights reform as a campaign plank, because (1) either the usefulness and forcefulness of that plank comes from the credible threat that the campaign position will lead to an improvement in voting rights, or (2) the usefulness and forcefulness of that plank encourages clear “brand differentiation” among the candidates without endangering any potential for actual reform.